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Viet Nam-US Relation: New Developments
21/10/2016 9:39' Send Print
President Tran Dai Quang and President B.Obama in 23 May 2016 in Hanoi. Photo: VOV

In the Joint Viet Nam-US Statement adopted during the visit to Viet Nam by US President B.Obama, the two sides confirmed proactive coordination to enhance the Viet Nam-US comprehensive partnership in the near future in the following fields: political-diplomacy, economy, people to people relations, national security and defense, human rights and judicial reform, addressing regional and global challenges, and deepening partnership.

This assertion is based on the actual results that the two sides have worked hard to achieve over the past 20 years.

Strengthen political and diplomatic relations

Positive developments were made in the Viet Nam-US political and diplomatic relations in the 1995-2015 period, facilitating future bilateral ties. While the two countries are paying attention to strengthening relations within the overall strategic partnership with the Asia-Pacific region, bilateral relations have been boosted. Ten years after the establishment of diplomatic relations during the official visit to the US by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, the two sides have built “the constructive, friendly and multifaceted partnership on the basis of equality, mutual respect and benefits”(1). Nearly 10 years later in July 2013 during the official visit to the US by President Truong Tan Sang, the two countries established the framework of comprehensive partnership with nine priority areas based on the principle of respecting the United Nations Charter, international law, respect for political institutions, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other. A special event in bilateral relations was the historic visit to the US by Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in July 2015 and the two sides issued a Declaration on Common Vision. It is considered as an important framework on vision and principles to deepen long-term partnership, and an active contribution to regional and international development.

In addition to bilateral relation official framework, the two sides have also strengthened linkages through multilateral activities, regional and multilateral fora, such as the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and related meetings; and together with 10 other members participated in negotiations on Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a trade agreement of new generation which has important economic and strategic significance to the entire region.

The Viet Nam-US relation has also strengthened by the regular cooperation mechanisms established primarily over the past 10 years, such as the policy dialogues in the field of politics-security-defense at deputy ministerial level and below, frequent exchange of delegations in many areas (especially the high-level delegations). In the 2005-2016 period the two sides exchanged 7 visits of heads of States (2). This is not a common practice in the relations between the United States and a Southeast Asian nation. US President B.Obama’s visit to Viet Nam in May 2016 was the third visit of US leaders to Viet Nam since the two countries established diplomatic relations, an important contribution to bilateral relations.

Firstly, it facilitates better understanding of each other's concerns amid rapid changes in the region, strengthens trust and will to further boost bilateral cooperation. Secondly, it creates basis for the development of cooperation in specific areas, such as several big economic contracts worth several billion dollars were signed (3); the US’ arms embargo against Viet Nam was removed; specific agreements on response to climate change, education, energy resource development were signed. Thirdly, it helps increase the linkage of the Viet Nam-US to the settlement of regional problems of mutual concern, and facilitates regional sustainable development and cooperation.

The 2016 Viet Nam-US Joint Declaration confirmed, and enhance mutual trust and was of pivotal significance in the development of friendship and sustainable, healthy and long-term partnership.

Promoting economic relations, cooperation in science - technology

Over the past 20 years, the United States and Viet Nam have exchanged, negotiated and reached many important agreements, creating the foundation for long-term economic partnership. Among the documents directly and indirectly relating to economic and trade relations between the two countries, notably are the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) signed in 2001, and the Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) in 2006. Viet Nam and the United States concluded negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2006 and reached a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2007. In particular, the two countries and other 10 members completed the TPP negotiations.

In the past 20 years, trade between Viet Nam and the US has increased 100 folds, from US$ 451 million in 1995 to US$ 45 billion in 2015 (4). In particular, after the signing of the BTA, trade turnover has increased steadily by 20% per year, including during the global financial-economic crisis. The US has become the largest export market of Viet Nam. The proportion of Viet Nam's export turnover regularly accounts for over 80% of the total trade turnover with the US. In 2006, Viet Nam's trade surplus was US$ 6.85 billion, and in 2015 this figure increased almost four-folds to US$ 25.67 billion. Particularly in the first 4 months of 2016, it was nearly US$ 9 billion.

The two sides are continuing to promote its strengths in trade. Viet Nam exports clothes, furniture, footwear, and seafood. The US exports machinery, cotton and plastic. With the prospect of ratification and enforcement of the TPP, it is expected that trade exchange between the US and Viet Nam will increase strongly in the coming years, especially after the TPP comes into effect. According to the 2012 Report of the Peterson Institute for Economic Research (USA), exports of Viet Nam in 2025 may increase by 37% (compared with the non-TPP period), and certainly a huge part of this going into the US market.

On investment, the United States ranks eighth among 114 countries and territories directly investing in Viet Nam. According to data from the Foreign Investment Department, Ministry of Planning and Investment, by 24 April 2016 the US’ cumulative investment capital into Viet Nam reached US$ 11.73 billion, and possibly rises with 806 projects are in effect. US investors have been present in 42 out of 63 localities of Viet Nam. Many representatives of major US companies have been present in Viet Nam such as Exxon Mobil, and General Motors. It is expected that Viet Nam-US cooperation in investment will increase further given political stability in Viet Nam and commitments related to transparency, further trade liberalization and financial market opening (crucial factors in modern Free Trade Agreements (FTA).

Both sides have given much attention to science and technology cooperation. In recent years, progress has been made in science and technology cooperation alongside TPP negotiations. The two countries have been promoting cooperation in various fields, including medical science and health, agriculture, educational exchanges and research, conservation science and environment, hydrology and meteorology, and storm warnings. Remarkably, three other potential fields that have received much attention are civil nuclear cooperation, response to climate change and space research. The two countries signed the Agreement on Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy (123 Agreement) on 6 May 2014. The two sides have been implementing a number of projects on response to climate change in both the North and South Viet Nam, especially in the Mekong Delta. The Viet Nam Academy of Science and Technology and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on 5 December 2011 signed the minutes of the meeting on cooperation in research and application of space technology on natural resource management, environment, disaster reduction and response to climate change (5).

Strengthening development cooperation

Cooperation in education and training between the two countries has developed and this is an important point in bilateral relations. So far, with about 29,000 students from Viet Nam studying in the United States, Viet Nam has become the 6th country with the largest number of students studying in the United States the most (6) where as in 2006 Viet Nam ranked 20. At present, Viet Nam boasts 23 universities partnering with US universities and colleges and many US economists have been working and teaching in Viet Nam (7). Especially, the Viet Nam Fulbright University was officially established and will start operation in late 2016 in Ho Chi Minh City. This is the first non-profit people-founded university in Viet Nam, providing full scholarship for students in difficulties. These linkages are a solid foundation for the two countries to strengthen cooperation in education in the future.

Cooperation in health service, environmental decontamination and humanitarian activities are another bright spots in Viet Nam-US bilateral cooperation. As far as healthcare is concerned, the two sides have exchange experiences and share knowledge on many fields, including response to avian influenza and other diseases for many years. Viet Nam is the only Asian country on the recipient list of the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiated by President G.Bush in 2003 (8). In June 2013, the two countries also signed a new Agreement on cooperation in health and medical sciences, creating conditions for strengthening healthcare cooperation in the new period.

Regarding environmental decontamination, the US provided US$ 84 million in aid for dioxin detoxification of the Da Nang airport beside US$ 11 million for people with disabilities, including victims of Agent orange in the period of 2014-2016) (9). Regarding humanitarian activities, the two sides have cooperated closely in the search for missing persons in the war, and cleaning landmines and explosive remnants of war. In July 2013, the United States for the first time committed to supporting the disabled regardless causes. The areas of cooperation are expected to continue to be important priorities in the process of strengthening bilateral relations in the coming period.

Promote defense and security relations

Since the two countries appointed military attaché in 1997, defense cooperation with steady strides, creating a foundation for the development in the future. The two countries have established a legal basis for deepening important defense relationship with the signing of a Memorandum on promoting bilateral defense cooperation September 2011 on 5 priority areas (10), Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations in June 2015, a number of other agreements on Military Education and training (IMET); establishment of the strategic defense dialogue mechanism at the deputy minister level since 2008, and deputy ministerial-level defense policy dialogue since 2010. Defense leaders of the two countries have conducted reciprocal visits (11), closely cooperated within the framework of meetings of defense ministers of ASEAN countries (ADMM+), participated in the search for prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA), humanitarian activities, and demining. Viet Nam declared to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in May 2014. Besides, the two sides have continued to discuss coordination to strengthen defense capacity of Viet Nam through the exchange of intelligence information, cooperation in training, and capacity building to join the peacekeeping force of the United Nations (PKO). The two sides will promoting defense cooperation in maritime security, disaster relief, and technology transfer to respond to new challenges. In Viet Nam-US Joint Statement in May 2016, the two sides gave priorities to humanitarian cooperation, settlement of aftermath of war, maritime security, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Viet Nam welcomes US’s support on maritime security through the Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and looks forward to cooperating with the United States to improve Viet Nam’s maritime capacity. In particular, the decision of the US government to fully lift the ban on arms sales to Viet Nam is a strong motive force to build trust and promote bilateral defense cooperation in the future.

On security, the two countries have exchanged delegations at all levels to enhance mutual understanding, strengthen trust and share information of common concern in this field. The two sides have expedited preparations for signing a number of agreements aimed at strengthening cooperation in the fields of security and law enforcement. While traditional and non-traditional security issues have been matters of great concern in international relations, security cooperation between the two countries is still very potential. The two countries have been closely coordinating in anti-terrorism and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on drug prevention in 2003. More attention has been paid on coordination on cyber security, financial-monetary security, and food security and safety. In recent exchange, the US appreciated the information and timely coordination of Viet Nam in handling cases related to drug trafficking, and cyber security. It is the basis for security cooperation between the two countries in the future.

On the basis of favorable prospects in the Viet Nam-US relations, the two countries aim to continue to effectively and substantively deepen bilateral ties. Accordingly, there is a need for more specific agreement between the two countries and projects in the field of economy, trade, investment, science and technology, and education to meet the needs of the two countries, especially those relating to the ratification and cooperation within the framework of TPP. In this process, it is necessary to continuously review policies for synchronization in various fields for effective and substantive partnership. At the same time, both sides should make efforts to minimize disagreements, and remaining differences, continue to build trust for bilateral cooperation and mutual benefit.

To promote cooperation with the United States which is a partner with the global policies and give much concern to external relations, Viet Nam should continue to take advantage of opportunities and minimize challenges in bilateral cooperation. While the US has shifted its concern to the region, investment restructuring, focusing on cooperation with allies and partners, Viet Nam needs to involve in political-economic linkages as well as US investment projects. To step up international integration in a comprehensive and efficient manner and take advantage of the areas of cooperation with the United States, Viet Nam should continue to improve appropriate capacity. Accordingly, it is necessary to improve the legal system to serve the socialist-oriented market economy and meet high demands in the TPP framework, improve the competitiveness of the work force, and improve infrastructure systems. These are important structural foundation to strengthen the partnership with the United States, contributing positively to development, security and position of Viet Nam in the world.



(1) The 2005 Viet Nam- US Joint Statement. Source:

(2) These included the visits of Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in 2005, US President G.Bush in 2006, State President Nguyen Minh Triet in 2007, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in 2008, President Truong Tan Sang in 2013, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in 2015, and President B. Obama in May 2016

(3) Including contracts on Boeing aircraft sale worth more than US$ 11 billion in the period of 2019-2023



(6) Report / 2015 / SEVIS-bythenumbers-dec15.pdf

(7) http://Viet

(8) Out of the 15 recipient countries worldwide of this Plan


(10) Includes: 1. Establish mechanisms for high-level regular dialogue between the US Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of Viet Nam; 2. Marine Security; 3. Search and Rescue; 4. Research and exchange of experience on peacekeeping operations of the United Nations; 5. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief

(11) Including visits of the two countries’ Defense Ministers William Cohen in May 2000, Pham Van Tra in November 2003, Phung Quang Thanh in December 2009, and Robert Gates in October 2010, Leon Panetta in June 2012, and Ashton Carter in June 2015

This article was published in Communist Review No 884 ( June 2016)

Lai Thai Binh, PhDDeputy Director General of Americas Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs